Housing, Oh Housing…
Preserve Director, Ventura Land Trust
Housing, oh housing. Why art thou so challenging?
On a particularly warm Friday in March, VCLA Cohort 27 gathered for our 7th session. Focusing on Public Health and Social Services, the day began at the Ventura County Human Service Agency where we heard from distinguished leaders in the County Services sector. From Michael Petitt’s presentation about how the County is utilizing technology and change to revolutionize their service offerings, to Melissa Livingston’s impassioned talk about protecting our most vulnerable and marginalized community members, the morning session was as informative as it was eye opening. Did you know the County of Ventura Health Care Agency serves over 200,000 patients annually? Yeah, me either.
As riveting as the morning’s speakers were, I am not really here to talk about what went on in the Pepper Tree conference room on Partridge Drive. I am here to relay my experiences in the Santa Clara River at Turning Point’s River Haven facility. That’s right, once we finished up in the fluorescently lit, freshly sanitized conference room, we headed out into the real world to see firsthand the work the Turning Point foundation is doing in our community. Now, in all fairness, I have to say that I have been working around homelessness for quite sometime now. As an employee at Ventura Land Trust, I manage land in the lower Ventura River, a place historically associated with homelessness. With this background, I was eager to see the transitional housing project Turning Point runs in the Santa Clara river.
Upon arrival to River Haven, I was immediately surprised by the lack of trash around the facility. Coming from the Ventura River, I usually associate trash with areas experiencing homelessness. That was not the case at River Haven. Jason Meek, the Executive Director of Turning Point, welcomed our group and gave an overview of the facility with his staff. River Haven offers transitional housing options for people experiencing homelessness. The Turning Point staff offers case management services at both River Haven, and other facilities they operate. River Haven features 23 cabins, 19 residents, and a roughly 2 year stay limit. The property is owned by the City, who allows Turning Point to operate River Haven via a written contract.
Transitional housing options like River Haven appeal to individuals experiencing homelessness for a few reasons. First, individuals living on the street might not be ready for a homeless shelter or subsidized housing option. A transitional housing option, such as the small cabins at River Haven, seem to help bridge the gap between homelessness and being housed. Second, most homeless shelters have a no weapons and no drugs policy. River Haven is a little more lenient on this in certain circumstances. This leniency helps reduce barriers to entry and get more people into transitional housing. Third, transitional living arrangements like River Haven tend to have a lower capacity than shelters, which makes some individuals feel safer than they might in a traditional shelter. Stories of robbery, violence, and the spread of illnesses in traditional homeless shelters seem to scare off would be applicants. By having lower barriers to entry, River Haven seems to provide transitional housing for more people than a larger, shelter like facility might.
One of the most striking parts of the tour of River Haven came at the very end. A distressed resident of River Haven lashed out verbally at the group, and at Executive Director Jason Meek, about her current housing experience at River Haven. The individual made strong accusations that held an unknown level of truth. Regardless of the levels of truth in her statements, it made myself, and I would guess others, think deeply about the challenges associated with offering transitional housing to individuals experiencing homelessness. The need for a full spectrum of services is very real, and very challenging to administer. I feel so fortunate to live in a community that has leaders committed to the homelessness crisis. Even though the entire session was committed to Public Health and Social Services, we couldn’t escape the housing crises, which looms over our cohort like a big shadow. How will we develop the appropriate amount of housing, affordable or otherwise? This questions remains unanswered, but solutions like River Haven sure seem to be part of the solution.